Who the Lions got
Inflammatory title, I know, but I was running out of space and it captures the intent of the article well. This is not a criticism of the 2010 team or the front office, and I am glad that the team did not throw away games.
However, looking at how the 2011 draft class has panned out for the Detroit Lions, I cannot help but think once again that the Lions would be so much better off if they had lost one or two more games during that four-game winning streak to finish the season.
This would not have been too hard. The Lions never blew a team out over that stretch, with the 7-3 win against the Green Bay Packers only finishing so low-scoring because the Lions knocked Aaron Rodgers out of the game in the first half, and all their other victories being no more than seven points.
While it is true that the Lions took confidence out of these victories, a loss here and there against playoff-caliber teams like the Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers would hardly have lessened the optimism around the Lions squad going into 2012, especially since franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford was not healthy for those wins.
However, the effect of two or even one fewer win would have been huge for Detroit come draft day. As it was, the Lions had the 13th pick of the draft, but had they lost one more game that season they would have instead had the sixth pick, and two losses would have netted them the fourth overall selection. Both of these outcomes would have radically changed the draft for the Lions, almost certainly for the better.
By picking 13th, the Lions missed out on most of the blue-chip players available, which is why they were stuck taking Nick Fairley, which, to be honest, was not even close to being a position of need. With Ndamukong Suh from the year before, and Corey Williams and Sammie Hill waiting in the wings, the Lions already had a stacked rotation.
Also, defensive tackle has always been an undervalued position, so there are perennially good rotation players cheap on the free-agency market like Derek Landri, and solid performers like Mike Martin, Alameda Ta'amu and Jerel Worthy available much later in the draft.
However, there was a run on players that interested the Lions between the fifth and 12th pick of the draft, so according to the best-player-available system, Fairley was the choice.
Additionally, with the extra value in their draft picks, it would have been much easier to try to sell a trade for Patrick Peterson. Even without this, it is likely the Lions would have taken Tyron Smith, who was rumored to be the Lions preferred option picking at 13.
However, with the level of talent available, the Lions could hardly have made a bad pick. Tyron Smith was an elite right tackle last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and has the tools be be a shut-down left tackle given time to get used to the different movements.
J.J. Watt has the ability to play left end and defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense and has been the best defensive player in the league thus far in 2012. Julio Jones is possibly the next coming of Calvin Johnson given his size, speed and athleticism, and Aldon Smith almost broke the rookie sack record last season and is one of the brightest young pass-rushers in the NFL.
Any of these players would have dramatically improved the Detroit Lions last year and would be doing even more for the team now.
Of course, if the Lions had lost two more games (again, it would not have been that difficult), they would have been picking fourth, which would have meant that Patrick Peterson was available. Peterson, while not a great cover man last year, was an explosive return man and so far in 2012 has been a shut-down cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals.
His skills would be especially welcome now that Jacob Lacey is the Lions' No. 1 cornerback with Chris Houston out injured. Also, his athleticism and size projects him to become possibly the greatest cornerback ever if he can master the mental and technical sides of the game, a process which he appears to be doing.
Later in the draft, the Lions would also have had better assets to spin trades with. If all their picks were about 10 spots earlier in the draft, that equates to another 948.5 points on the Jimmy Johnson draft pick value chart. As a frame of reference, this is the same value as is assigned to the 17th overall selection.
This added value could have freed the Lions up to move up in the draft to take talented players who fell like Jimmy Smith, Jonathan Baldwin or Derek Sherrod. As an example, the Lions could hypothetically traded up from the 38th overall to the 26th overall pick (which was being shopped by the Baltimore Ravens) by just giving up their second- and third-round selections, a feasible move. This would have put them in the position to take Jimmy Smith, who if they missed on Patrick Peterson at the top of the draft was possibly the second-best cornerback in the draft. He has performed well in limited snaps for the Ravens through two seasons.
Who should the Lions have taken if they were drafting 6th overall?
However, adding talent in the secondary or on the defensive line would have changed the way the Lions drafted in the middle rounds. Especially if Peterson or Jimmy Smith showed promise in 2011 as cover corners, then the Lions front office would not have been driven to make so many mid-to-late-round picks in the secondary in the hopes that one would stick.
The most important repercussion of winning fewer games in 2010 would be winning more in 2012 and in the future. The Lions offensive line has been pretty good so far this season, but upgrades on the defensive line in the shape of Aldon Smith or J.J. Watt, or in the secondary from Peterson or Jimmy Smith, would have put the Lions in a much better position to win games this year.
In conclusion, while great at the time, the four-game winning streak that the Lions embarked on at the end of the 2010 season was a terrible thing. With all the teams that finished 2010 with a 6-10 record, the Lions moved seven places down in the draft due to one more win. Had this not happened, the Lions would have been able to take much more impactful rookies throughout the draft. If only...